Beware of Counterfeit Clothes and Scam Websites

womanshpgonlineDuring the holiday shopping season it’s important to know that there are scam artists out there who will try to take advantage of you. Be on your guard from a new influx of counterfeit clothes and scam websites. The internet has been a great asset to US clothing shoppers looking for good buys on the best brands. Unfortunately, it has also been a great asset to criminals dealing in counterfeit clothes they try to pass off as the real thing. While the illegal market in fake top brand clothing predates the World Wide Web, the Internet has opened up new avenues of opportunity for those dealing in counterfeit clothes.

The United States has seen a large rise in 2014 of scam websites that typically promise that popular and expensive items of clothing manufactured by the best known brands can be had at bargain prices. They often have fake web addresses that falsely give the impression that they are operating in the US, when in fact the website owners may be scammers operating out of other countries.

The quality of the clothes is often far below the standards set by the real manufacturers, with some websites operating with no actual inventory. Consumers order, their money is accepted, but they never receive anything at all.

The dealing in counterfeit clothes is not some small scale operation. The sums of money involved are huge, with some estimates putting the total take of larger scam websites at millions of dollars per year. The counterfeit clothes racket also ties into other criminal activities, such as banking fraud and identity theft. Once you give a criminal organization your credit card number, there are a wide array of illegal ways it can be used to rob you again.

Because the clothing scam websites are located overseas, it can be all but impossible to complain about poor quality, orders never received or seek relief in the United States legal system. Even reporting the scammers to the law enforcement agencies of the countries from which they operate will seldom bring any results. Sometimes action can be taken to deregister the scam sites so that others won’t get duped, but even this can be ineffective.

The market for counterfeit clothes is not confined to the United States. In Great Britain last year, hundreds of scam shopping websites were closed for selling fake designer clothing and jewelry. In Ireland, poorly made counterfeit clothing became so widespread that the European Consumer Centre made a special plea to consumers to be cautious when buying clothes online.

The center strongly advises “consumers to do comprehensive research on a trader when shopping on the Internet” a spokeswoman said. She continued to suggest that customer look for contact details, as any missing information is a red flag.

It’s also important to know what too look for with counterfeit products. Examine the product as closely as you can online, counterfeit designer goods often have logos that are fuzzy, misspelled, or otherwise off from the brand, something a high quality designer would never allow to ship. The stitching on counterfeit merchandise is often sloppy. If you can see the stitching without much effort, it is nearly guaranteed to be a fake.

Caution should always be used online, but becoming familiar with the genuine product and examining potential deals is one of the best ways to stay safe.

As counterfeit production becomes more elaborate, the proper tags do not necessarily mean a genuine product. As a result, many manufacturers of high quality clothing have taken extra steps to ensure their product stands out. Holographic logos and serial numbers are just a few methods that can ensure a legitimate purchase. Know the designer’s key marks and beware of products that lack them.

Be cautious of high fashion clothing being advertised at greatly reduced prices and only pay using a secure, refundable, method such as a credit card or a secure service such as PayPal.

Make sure you use online retailers that do provide genuine merchandise at a discount. In the end, you’re your own best advocate to prevent getting scammed. Use your common sense and know what you’re buying, and remember the old saying that “if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is.”

Protect yourself this holiday season and all year-round with First Financial’s ID Theft Protection! With our Fully Managed Identity Recovery services, you don’t need to worry. A professional Recovery Advocate will do the work on your behalf, based on a plan that you approve. Should you experience an Identity Theft incident, your Recovery Advocate will stick with you all along the way – and will be there for you until your good name is restored and you can try it FREE for 90 days!*

Our ID Theft Protection options may include some of the following services, based on the package you choose to enroll in: Lost Document Replacement, Credit Bureau Monitoring, Score Tracker, and Three-Generation Family Benefit. To learn more about our ID Theft Protection products, click here and enroll today!**

*Available for new enrollments only. After the free trial of 90 days, the member must contact the Credit Union to opt-out of ID Theft Protection or the monthly fee of $4.95 will automatically be deducted out of the base savings account or $8.95 will be deducted out of the First Protection Checking account (depending upon the coverage option selected), on a monthly basis or until the member opts out of the program. **Identity Theft insurance underwritten by subsidiaries or affiliates of Chartis Inc. The description herein is a summary and intended for informational purposes only and does not include all terms, conditions and exclusions of the policies described. Please refer to the actual policies for terms, conditions, and exclusions of coverage. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions.

Original article source courtesy of Lori Kelley of SavingAdvice.com.

8 Tips to Keep Your Holiday Shopping Focused on Saving the Most Money

1211-women-holiday-shopping-lgnWe all love and hate shopping during the holidays, and it’s important to shop both safely and affordably during the season. Here are some ways to stay focused to keep you and your budget in-check this holiday season!

The National Retail Foundation’s annual survey shows that holiday spending is at an all-time high.

  • Americans spent 3.8% more in 2013 than in 2012 (to the tune of $601.8 billion total).
  • November and December spending last year totaled 19.2% of annual sales nationwide.

This is our national spending forecast — what we can expect if we “go with the flow.” The good news is, unlike with our local weather forecast, we can change our personal holiday spending forecast if we resolve to do things differently this year!

While it may seem like an oxymoron to attempt to save on holiday spending, experts say it can be done. Here are tips that will help:

1. Coupon for holiday “varieties” of regular household items.

It’s always nice to have holiday-themed paper goods, towels, candles and other festive items on hand for guests and visiting relatives. The good news with these items is that, unlike strings of lights and mistletoe, if you have extras you still can use them all year long.

Here are some ideas:

  • Paper goods: Paper towels, napkins, party plates of various sizes, wrapping paper
  • Plastic goods: Festive flatware, plastic cups (go for one-size-fits-all to save), gift bags, ribbons and bows
  • Tea lights and candles: So long as you enjoy the scents, you can use these all year.

Note: If you dislike using holiday themed items after the holidays, then opt for holiday solid colors (red, green, blue, white, etc.) so if you have extras to use up, they won’t be so noticeable.

2. Consider hosting an in-home sales event to reduce the cost of gifts for everyone.

If you have a friend who is an independent sales rep for a popular line of jewelry, accessories, kitchenware, skincare or scrapbooking supplies, consider hosting a pre-holiday party in your home. You’ll save on gifts and so will your friends — and your sales rep friend will make their holiday quota!

As a party host or hostess, you can expect to receive:

  • Free hostess gifts
  • One-on-one time with the consultant for personalized gift recommendations
  • Deeper discounts on your purchases (Discounts typically escalate with higher totals on party purchases).

Your attendees can expect to receive:

  • Attendee free samples
  • Discounts on purchases

3. If you can’t find the item at the price you want, go ahead and wait it out.

You just never know what the holiday shopping mania will bring. If there’s an item you want but the price isn’t right, don’t buy it.

  • What to do: Wait…chances are the price will not go up before the holidays arrive in earnest, and it might decrease as merchants become more eager to move their holiday inventory.

4. Don’t fall for “door busters.”

A “door buster” is a marketer’s term for a low-priced item that is so enticing, it can bring customers to the store all by itself. But experts caution against assuming that just because an item is advertised at an “all-time low” for that store, do not assume that is the lowest price you can find!

  • What to do: Use your price comparison tools and coupons to “challenge” that price—see if you can find the item for lower somewhere else. Download the “ShopSavvy” app to scan an item and see other prices at surrounding stores!

5. Wait for holiday clearance sales to start.

Traditionally, many merchants begin their holiday clearance sales right before the holidays actually begin. Once the clearance sales start, prices on those items will continue to decline until the inventory is all gone, or the new sales cycle starts.

  • What to do: Research when your favorite merchants will begin their clearance sales (often you can find this by signing up for their email newsletters or following them on social media). Then plan your shopping accordingly.

6. Watch social media for “flash” coupons, deals and offers.

As we become increasingly social media-driven, merchants are using the power of free social media-based advertising to draw in customers.

  • What to do: For items you really want, be sure to follow those merchants on Facebook and Twitter (you can set up your social media accounts so they deliver alerts as they happen to make sure you don’t miss an offer). Also be sure to sign up for Amazon’s Lightning Deals.

7. When asking for price matching, don’t forget about online store offers.

During the holiday crush, many brick-and-mortar merchants rely on holiday sales to close out the year in the black. (Remember, 19.2% of all annual spending happens in November and December!). So not only will many retailers offer price matching guarantees, but often these apply to competitors’ prices both online and offline.

  • What to do: If you see a low price online offer, bring in the proof and ask the merchant to honor it.

8. Sign up for the holiday store credit card and promotional offers.

Nearly 20% of annual purchases are made during the holidays, so the holidays represent a merchant’s best chance to attract new customers and build long-term customer loyalty. So prepare for retailers to compete by offering mouth-watering incentives to sign up for their in-store promotional offers, including freebies with purchase, discounts when signing up for a new line of store credit and more.

  • What to do: Take the offers, discounts, deals and freebies! Pay for what you owe, then stash those cards away until the holidays arrive again (or even better, cut them up so you won’t be tempted).

Need some extra cash for the holidays?  Check out First Financial’s Holiday Loan Special here for the 2014 holiday season! Fixed rate of 10.9% APR – click here to learn more about this limited time offer and apply online today.*

The perfect way to save for your holiday expenses is by opening a Holiday Club Account right here at First Financial! No need to put yourself into debt over holiday spending – simply save ahead and come out on top (and not in debt)!**

  • Open at any time
  • No minimum balance requirements
  • Dividends are posted annually on balances of $100 or more
  • Accounts automatically renew each year
  • Deposits can be made in person, via mail, payroll deductions, or direct deposit
  • Holiday Club funds are deposited into a First Financial Checking or Base Savings Account

*APR = Annual Percentage Rate. Subject to credit approval. Actual rate may vary based on credit worthiness. Maximum 12 month term. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a holiday loan and is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or attends school in Monmouth of Ocean Counties. A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account/loan. Cannot be combined with any other offer. Promotional period 11/1/14 to 1/31/15. See credit union for details. **A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account. All personal memberships are part of the Rewards First program and a $5 per month non-participation fee is charged to the base savings account for memberships not meeting the minimum requirements of the Bronze Tier. Click here to view full Rewards First program details, and here to view the Tier Level Comparison Chart. Accounts for children age 13 and under are excluded from this program.

Click here to view the original article source courtesy of thekrazycouponlady.com.

Things to Do on a Budget in Monmouth & Ocean Counties this December 2014

Family_readingThe most magical time of the year has arrived! With so many fun and festive events occurring this month, it will be hard to pick just a few. Enjoy this special time of year with all of your family and friends – check out the many free or inexpensive activities happening this month in a town near you.

Tree Lighting Ceremonies:

Friday, December 5 & Friday, December 12: It’s a performance of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” at the Allaire Chapel (Farmingdale). The production starts at 7:30pm and admission is just $15 per person. Advance ticket purchase recommended – call 732-919-3500 for more information.

Saturday, December 6: Bring the kids to have Breakfast with Santa at Cafe 360 in Downtown Freehold! From 9am-12:30pm, kids can enjoy a great treat while visiting their favorite head elf. Call 732-294-4722 to make your reservations today.

It’s Monmouth County Paper Shredding Day! Monmouth County residents will have an opportunity to get rid of old documents and confidential files safely. Stop by the Wagner Farm Sports Complex at 4 Baird Road, Millstone between 9am-1pm. For more information, call 732-683-8686, ext. 6721.

Thursday, December 11: “Tis the Season: A Holiday Concert,” is an evening of seasonal music of choir, orchestra, and handbells performed in the majestic and festive atmosphere of Wilson Hall at Monmouth University (West Long Branch). The concert is at 7:30pm and conducted by Professor Michael Gillette and Dr. David M. Tripold and features the Colts Neck Reformed Church Exultation Ringers. To purchase tickets and for more information, call 732-683-6889.

Friday, December 12 – Sunday, December 14: Inspired by the classic holiday film, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is performed as a 1940s radio broadcast in front of a live studio audience by the Center Players of Freehold. Featuring onstage Foley sound effects, vintage radio equipment, period costuming and radio commercials, all set to the soothing sounds of your favorite holiday standards. A handful of actors gather on Christmas Eve 1946, to perform the dozens of characters who bring this heart-warming tale to life. Tickets are just $15 a person. For more information, call 732-462-9093.

Saturday, December 13 – Sunday, December 14: American Repertory Ballet brings the magic, beauty, and fantasy of “The Nutcracker” to the stage with Tchaikovsky’s magnificent score, stunning sets, thrilling choreography, and a massive cast to the Algonquin Arts Theatre (Manasquan). Directed by Company Director Douglas Martin, ARB’s professional company will be joined by students from Princeton Ballet School to tell the story of a young girl and how a mysterious gift brings about enchanted dreams and fantastical scenes. Whether it’s your first time, an annual tradition, or an once-in-a-lifetime experience, ARB’s Nutcracker is a perfect holiday treat for the entire family. Various showtimes and prices available online, call 732-528-9211 for more information.

Saturday, December 14: Meet with Santa for an “Old Fashioned Colts Neck Christmas” and enjoy rich history, hot chocolate, candy canes, and other goodies! There will be a tree lighting ceremony and reading of “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” read by Freehold Director, Lillian Burry. This FREE event will take place from 1-4:30pm at the Historic Montrose School, Corner of Cedar Drive & Montrose Road in Colts Neck. For more information, call 732-462-6888.

Friday, December 19 – Saturday, December 20: The classic animated television special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” comes to life in this faithful stage adaptation at the Algonquin Arts Theatre (Manasquan) where Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the other Peanuts grapple with the real meaning of Christmas. Enjoy music arrangements that reflect the spirit and mood of Schulz’s work and introduce contemporary jazz to youngsters with grace, charm, and creativity. A Charlie Brown Christmas is a joyous and festive meditation for the holiday season. Various showtimes and prices available online, call 732-528-9211 for more information.

Grab some hot cocoa and popcorn and sit down with the family to enjoy holiday movies all month long! Click here to view the TV schedule for the holiday season.

Happy Holidays to you and yours!

4 Fun Ways to Teach Your Kids About Money

kids-money

Have you ever wished that someone taught you more about money as a child? The sad reality is that many students graduate from college with a degree but are unable to manage their money. Here are some tips to educate your children about money so they can better handle their finances in the future:

1. Talk isn’t cheap when it comes to money.

Dianne Caliman, creative director of The Centsables, an award-winning animated TV series on the Fox Business network, believes talking is key when it comes to money matters with children. She suggests including your children in the family’s money management activities such as looking through circulars and clipping coupons.

She points out that these types of activities are great jumping off points for discussions. Caliman explains that showing real life examples to children fosters understanding and meaningful connections to money management. “Show the kids your bills, and explain how purchases made earlier must be paid for now,” she says.

Caliman also reminds parents to be role models and to ask themselves the following: What messages do you send your children? Are you living beyond your means? Do you pull out the plastic for every purchase? Do you and your spouse worry or argue about money? She advises taking a look at your own money habits, and make any changes where you think necessary. “When you exercise good financial judgment, you are automatically teaching your children by example. That’s a win-win situation for all,” she adds.

2. Make a budget-based allowance.

Bill Dwight, founder of FamZoo.com, suggests giving children an allowance that is based on a very simple budget. “Make a list of the typical things you would expect your kids to buy for themselves over a period of time, plus how much you would expect them to save and give, and calculate an allowance amount to match those clear expectations,” he says. Dwight adds that as your kids mature, you can extend the budget to cover more areas of spending like clothing. This approach helps insure that an allowance is a personal finance teaching tool rather than an entitlement.

3. Practice paying back loans before college.

One way to get practice at paying back a loan is to lend your kids money. Dwight suggests teaching your kids how to manage loan payments by arranging a parent-financed loan for a big ticket item like a laptop or a smartphone. “Direct a portion of their allowance, chore or job payments to paying off the loan each period. By making regular payments over an extended period of time, not only will your kids appreciate the cost of expensive items more, but they’ll take better care of them.”

4. Take on the tough lessons, too.

No one said teaching kids about money was easy. It may take work to get kids on board with the idea. Rod Griffin, director of public education for Experian knows this firsthand by getting a little pushback from his own granddaughter when it came to the topic. In her elementary school class, she has to “pay” for her school books and “rent” the desk she sits in with pretend money she earns through various activities, academic performance and good behavior. What she saves after expenses can be used to “buy” rewards.

Griffin points out that many parents feel ill-equipped to teach their kids money concepts, especially more advanced ones and don’t know what to do. He explains how there are many sources on the web that can help. Griffin recommends checking out Moonjar.com for younger children, because it explains the basics of saving, spending and giving. LifeSmarts.org is geared toward older kids and provides free lessons online via videos and other tools.

Griffin also suggests showing high school and college-aged kids an actual credit report. A sample one is provided on the Experian website to understand the different parts and what they mean. They can see how their financial decisions impact how prospective creditors view their credit history. They get to see how their financial behavior, such as paying bills on time or being late, is tracked and recorded much like a permanent record.

At some point, everyone has to manage their own finances. The more exposure and practice a child gets, the better equipped they will be in the future when they have to make financial decisions on their own. Consider teaching them age-appropriate lessons as they grow to help them develop the skills they need to successfully handle their money.

Here at First Financial, we have a few products and services just for kids so they can start saving for their future while having fun doing it!

  • First Step Kids Savings Account: First Financial’s unique First Step Kids Savings Account is specifically designed for young people, with a focus on education and fun.*
  • Dollars for A’s Program: For every “A” your child earns on their report card, First Financial will deposit $1 into your child’s First Step Kids Account!* It’s a great way to reward your child for doing his or her best in school. It also teaches the life long practice of saving for the future. To earn your dollars, visit a branch location.**
  • Summer Reading Contest: Every summer we have a reading contest where First Financial kids up to age 18 can earn rewards for the books they read, along with a great grand prize!***
  • Student Checking Account: A complete Checking Account for students ages 14-23. It comes equipped with their own personalized Debit Card, has no minimum balance requirements, and more!****

*As of 12/12/2012, the First Step Kids Account has an annual percentage yield of 0.05% on balances of $100.00 and more. The dividend rate may change after the account is opened. Parent or guardian must bring both the child’s birth certificate and social security card when opening a First Step Kids Account at any branch location.  Parent or guardian will be a joint owner and must also bring their identification. A First Financial Membership is open to anyone who lives, works, worships or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

**Offer applies only to report cards for most recent school terms. Letter grade “A” or 90%+. No back rewards available for prior semesters or marking periods. Available for First Financial members between 1st and 12th grades. Qualifying report cards must be submitted within 45 days from the date of issue. Child must be present and a $5.00 deposit to a First Step Kids Account is required to receive the Dollars for A’s incentive.  Parent or guardian must bring both the child’s birth certificate and social security card when opening a First Step Kids Account at any branch location.  Parent or guardian will be a joint owner and must also bring their identification. A First Financial Membership is open to anyone who lives, works, worships or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. As of 12/12/2012, the First Step Kids Account has an annual percentage yield of 0.05% on balances of $100.00 and more. The dividend rate may change after the account is opened.

***Credit Union membership and Savings Account is required to participate. Members up to age 18 are eligible to participate and must complete an entry form. Reader rewards must be deposited to a child’s First Financial Savings Account. Winning reader and 4 runners up will be drawn after the contest ends (September), and will be contacted by the First Financial Marketing Department. Forms will not be posted on the website or located in any First Financial branch before the contest entry period.

****A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account. All personal memberships are part of the Rewards First program and a $5 per month non-participation fee is charged to the base savings account for memberships not meeting the minimum requirements of the Bronze Tier. Click here to view full Rewards First program details, and here to view the Tier Level Comparison Chart. Accounts for children age 13 and under are excluded from this program.

*Original article courtesy by Karen Cordaway of US News.

4 Ways to Save on Your Holiday Shopping Now

Art Img 7 TipsIt is hard to believe, but the holiday shopping season is here. If you’re like most families, holiday shopping can be a strain on the budget. Many shoppers also fear looking cheap when passing out gifts, which can lead to over-spending and blowing the budget.

According to the American Research Group, Americans on average spent $801 on Christmas shopping in 2013. That kind of number will have a big impact on a budget. If you’re looking for ways to cut down the cost of holiday shopping and still get great gifts, these tips will help.

Start now:

The best way to save money on holiday shopping is to start early. There is a belief that the best deals are available around Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, and that is not always the case. Instead of waiting, be on the lookout for even bigger deals that might be hitting stores sooner. The ever expanding influence of online shopping has moved many retailers to begin pushing major holiday campaigns back as early as Halloween, if not earlier. The added benefit is being able to avoid the craziness that Black Friday shopping brings.

Check out the Dollar Stores:

It might not be too common, but shopping at discount or Dollar stores can be a great way to shave some spending off of your gift budget. You might not find your gifts there, but you can probably save on other holiday-related items, such as wrapping paper, gift bags and decorations.

While they might not have good options for a traditional gift, Dollar stores can be a great option for gag gifts, office Christmas parties and white elephant gift exchanges. Beyond that, Dollar stores are a useful alternative for party favors or decorations for parties you may be hosting. Since many of those items will likely be thrown away anyway, there is no point in spending more than you need to.

Shop at stores that match prices:

Price matching has become increasingly expected as many brick and mortar retailers deal with the presence of online shopping. While not every store offers price matching, it can be a great way to save money when added to your shopping strategy. The trick is to know the terms and conditions of the given retailer you’re shopping at. Some will match any retailer while others will not match online-only retailers.

If you have a smartphone, bring it with you when you go shopping. There are many apps available now, from Amazon to others, which allow you to scan the item to see what is charged for it elsewhere. Add that to your arsenal to save money while shopping. Lastly, make sure to check the retailer’s site itself to make sure it’s not offering a cheaper price online than in-store. If you find a discrepancy, you can always ask for a price match, or at least allow a free shipping option.

Watch the daily deal sites:

Like the Dollar store option, daily deal sites may not be commonly thought of as options for gift shopping but they can be a great way to save money. Many daily deal sites regularly sell significantly reduced deals for national retailers that can be great options for presents. They might also give you ideas for items that you can then go track down in local stores.

The problem with daily deal sites is they have a limited window in which you can get the deal. This can definitely pose a problem when shopping for that special someone. However, there are options available if you missed out on the deal you were looking for. CoupRecoup, for example, allows those who have bought deals they’re unable to use to sell them. This can be a great way to potentially score a deal on an item you were looking for.

The holiday shopping season can be a stressful one, especially on a tight budget. By using some simple tips like the ones mentioned above you should be able to shave some money off your holiday shopping budget, and maybe even have some leftover for yourself.

Make gifts merrier with First Financial VISA® Gift Cards and currency envelopes! Available in denominations of $20 to $500, a First Financial VISA® Gift Card* is the perfect gift for anyone on your holiday list at a small cost of $3.95 per card. Gift card envelopes are just $1 and currency envelopes are free (limited 5 per person)!** All proceeds from the envelopes sales go directly to the First Financial Foundation.

Check out First Financial’s Holiday Savings Club Account – don’t put yourself into debt over holiday spending, save ahead and come out on top (and not in debt)!***

  • Open at any time
  • No minimum balance requirements
  • Dividends are posted annually on balances of $100 or more
  • Accounts automatically renew each year
  • Deposits can be made in person, via mail, payroll deductions, or direct deposit
  • Holiday Club funds are deposited into a First Financial Checking or Base Savings Account

*If the gift card is inactive for 360 days, an inactivity fee of $2.50 per month will be charged to the card – starting from the date of activation. If the card is lost or stolen, the replacement fee is $15.00.** 5 currency envelopes limit per person or purchase 10 currency envelopes for $2. ***A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account. All personal memberships are part of the Rewards First program and a $5 per month non-participation fee is charged to the base savings account for memberships not meeting the minimum requirements of the Bronze Tier. Click here to view full Rewards First program details, and here to view the Tier Level Comparison Chart. Accounts for children age 13 and under are excluded from this program.

Click here to view the original article source written by John Schmoll of U.S.News.

5 Foolish Mistakes First-Time Home Buyers Make

buying-house-without-realtor

Buying a home is exciting, especially when you’re buying for the first time. In the midst of all of the excitement, it’s easy to become blinded by beautiful back-splashes, granite and quartz counter tops, hardwood floors, and fenced-in backyards. While looking at homes that are completely perfect from top to bottom, you may begin to rationalize a larger purchase than you had originally planned for — “This house is perfect for me; it’s worth $50,000 extra dollars for me to have a house with enough space in a perfect location,” or “We were planning on spending a little bit of money on painting; we can spend $50,000 extra on this house because it doesn’t need any work.” These are some common mistakes first-time homebuyers often make – so be careful to avoid them if you are about to buy your first home.

1. Overspending

Before you even look at a single property, you need to know exactly how much you can afford. We have several online financial calculators you can use, but these tools are only estimates. Use these tools as a guide, but then adjust the amount based on your individual situation. How much is your current rent payment? Did you meet that payment each month with ease, or was it a bit of a struggle each month? The payment you can afford right now is a good indicator of what you’ll be able to afford in your new home.

Meet with a lender and get pre-approved for an amount you can afford. Also, keep in mind that it’s always better to lean towards a lower amount, rather than a higher amount. You do not have to use the entire amount you’re pre-approved for. Once you know how much you have to work with, then and only then should you start your house hunt.

2. Counting chickens before they hatch.

When determining how much mortgage you can afford, base this amount on what you are earning today. That is, the income that you and your spouse earn from stable sources. If you’re in your last year of law school, for instance, don’t assume that you will be earning much more money in a year or two, so you can afford a larger payment. If your wife is expecting a big promotion, don’t base your mortgage payment off of her potential salary increase. No one can predict the future, and although you may very well be in a better financial situation a year down the road, there is no guarantee.

3. Failing to account for closing costs, property taxes, HOA, and homeowner’s insurance.

When you rent a home, you generally only have one payment — rent — and then maybe renter’s insurance, which is optional. When you buy a place, your mortgage payment is only the beginning of an array of costs. Homeowner’s association fees can be as low as $0 or as high as a few hundred dollars per month, depending on where you live and the amenities and services offered.

Homeowners insurance and property taxes very based on your geographic location. Florida has notoriously high homeowner’s insurance rates, where they average $161.08 per month. In Idaho and Wisconsin, rates are a bit lower, averaging below $50 per month, according to Value Penguin. Property taxes average higher in New Jersey, New Hampshire, Texas and Wisconsin and they’re lower in Louisiana, Hawaii, and Alabama.

Then on top of all of those costs, if your down payment is less than 20 percent of the selling price, you may end up paying an additional cost — private mortgage insurance (PMI) — which is basically insurance for the lender in case you default on your loan. At the end of it all, your $800 mortgage payment can easily turn into a $1,200 house payment.

4. Failing to protect yourself with home inspections, contingency clauses, etc.

During your house hunt, you may find a house that looks great at first glance. Then, as you walk through a few of the rooms, you notice problems with the house — maybe the floors squeak or the kitchen island is off-centered. After walking through the house, you come to realize that someone simply put lipstick on a pig, and this house is in questionable shape.

Home inspections provide you with some protection. The inspector will be able to find problems that you can’t and you want to know these problems before you sign on. “The seller isn’t likely to tell you there’s mold in the basement or the walls are poorly insulated,” reports MSN.

Contingency clauses also offer a form of protection. “A mortgage financing contingency clause protects you if, say, you lose your job and the loan falls through or the appraisal price comes in over the purchase price. Should one of these events occur, the buyer gets back the money used to secure the property. Without the clause, the buyer can lose that money and still be obligated to buy the house,” explains Justin Lopatin, a mortgage planner with American Street Mortgage Co.

5. Being too naive or too paranoid.

Some first-time home buyers are naive. Overly optimistic, they think nothing could possibly go wrong. If a home has a few problems, they view them as easy fixes and are unrealistic when it comes to the cost and time it takes to fix up the home. Some naive buyers will move to a neighborhood on the wrong side of town, forgetting that you can fix up a house, but you can’t change your neighborhood or location without moving.

Paranoid buyers can be difficult to work with. They may not believe the price is an accurate assessment of the house’s market value. They may submit low offers which can be consistently rejected. Paranoid buyers may not trust real-estate agents, and may even try to buy their home without an agent, which is generally an unwise choice.

Stop into any First Financial branch and we can help you with your home buying journey. We provide great low rates and offer a variety of Mortgage options – to speak with First Financial’s lending department, call us at 866.750.0100 option 4.* 

To receive updates on our low mortgage rates straight to your mobile phone, text FIRSTRATE to 69302 and each time our mortgage rates change, we’ll send you a text message with the new rates.** We’re here to help you achieve your financial dreams!

*A First Financial membership is required to obtain a mortgage and is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. Subject to credit approval. Credit worthiness determines your APR. **Standard text messaging and data rates may apply.

Original article source by Erika Rawes of Wall St. Cheat Sheet.